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It’s usual for me to hear from a client or a potential client that the issues and challenges faced by their executive team are unique.

And to be fair, context is everything in how we lead in organisations. But it’s worth trying to prize apart if the challenges executive teams face really are that different, or if we can find patterns in how good enterprise leadership is done.

So was I delighted to be able to do that in today’s episode with two brilliant chief people, officers who are operating in really different sorts of organisations.

Kate Bishop is the CPO of IFS, a relatively young, high growth Cloud software company that supports organisations who want to differentiate on service. And Jas Sohal the CPO  of an NHS organisation that integrates health and care across a population.

So in some ways you’d think they couldn’t be more different and in other ways, we found in this enlivening conversation that some things are very, very similar.

I particularly enjoyed when we talked about the cost-of-living crisis because of course, if you are an Executive leader, then the people in your organisation are grappling with a cost-of-living crisis, a fuel-price crisis this winter.

That issue is going on in the background of your people working and will inevitably have some sort of impact on them. It highlighted for me the importance of every good executive team being tuned in to the issues that are alive in our society that the people in our organisations are grappling.

Jacqueline Conway  00:00

The organisational peak is a perilous environment. It’s more complex and challenging than anything that’s gone before. And as a consequence, both executive tenure and corporate longevity are decreasing. To survive and thrive at the perilous peak, executive leaders need to balance their functional leadership or focus on execution with enterprise leadership, that is ensuring the organisation adapts and their new world. That’s what we’ll be exploring in the advanced executive leadership podcast. Welcome. I’m your host Jacqueline Conway. I’m the founder and managing director of Walden Croft, a consulting practice dedicated to helping executives and executive teams anticipate, navigate and delete at the perilous peak. It’s usually for me to hear from a client or a potential client, that the issues and challenges faced by the executive team are unique. And to be fair context is everything in how we lead in organisations. But it’s worth trying to prise apart if the challenges executive teams face really are that different. Or if we can find patterns in how good enterprise leadership is done. So I was delighted to be able to do that in today’s episode was to brilliant chief people, officers who are operating in really different sorts of organisations. Kate Bishop is the CPO of Ifs a relatively young, high growth cloud software company that supports organisations who want to differentiate on service and jazz. So how is the CPU of an NHS organisation that integrates health and care across a population? In some ways, you’d think that they couldn’t get more different. And yet in other ways, we phoned in this really enlivening conversation, but some things are very, very similar. I really enjoyed the parts of the conversation where we talked about the importance of leadership at the top, and modelling the sorts of values and behaviours of the top of the organisation and the inverted pyramid of servant leadership, and an executive being really in the service of the people that they’re leading in the organisation. And I particularly enjoyed when we talked about the cost of living crisis. Because of course, if you’re an Executive leader, and the people in your organisation are grappling with our cost of living crisis, or fuel price crisis, this winter, the issue is going on in the background of your people’s work, and will inevitably have some sort of impact on them. And it highlighted for me, the importance of every good executive team being tuned into the issues that are alive in our society, and that the people in your organisation are grappling with, it was really spot on and pertinent for just now. I let both of my guests introduce themselves. And I really hope you enjoyed today’s episode.

Jas Sohal  03:19

I’m Jas Sohal my role is Chief People Officer for now, this is a bit long bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire integrated care board. So what that actually means is that I work as the Chief People Officer for that geography, for health and social care across that geography, which includes lots of different partners. They like to call it a system, that geography so I work with, for example, Chief people, officers of hospitals of mental health and community trusts of hospices of voluntary organisations. So that sort of encompasses that whole area.

Jacqueline Conway  03:59

Wonderful. Thank you very much. We’ll hear more about some of the challenges there as we come on to have the conversation. But Kate, do you want to introduce yourself? Now, please?

Kate Bishop  04:10

Sure. So I’m Kate Bishop, and I’m the CHRO for a company called IFS, so possibly the shortest name compared to Jas. And I’ve been there since about January time. And we IFS is a technology company in the sort of software as a services space for the most part. So we’ll do things like enterprise asset management, Field Services, management, those kind of things. So sort of almost a mini SAP or Oracle kind of organisation and we work with sort of small to medium sized businesses pretty global. So we’ve just hit 5000 employees actually. So growing very, very fast. Lots of acquisition works and lots of growth. Very exciting.

Jacqueline Conway  04:56

Fantastic. So I guess me and for both of you the challenges of being an Executive leader in those kinds of contexts is, is very different. Jas, one of the things that you’re talking about is the fact that you’re brand new, and that this is a completely new set up. I mean, how has that been coming into that new setup and trying to sort of establish yourself both as a chief people officer there but also, as a person who is an Executive leader, looking after the development, and effectiveness of that team on behalf of the chief executive?

Jas Sohal  05:34

Yeah, so it’s been a bit of a roller coaster, really. So I’m in week four now of that journey, you know, I’m still at that stage where I’m finding out who people are, what they do, how they work, what they work on. But at the same time, you know, the doing does have to start a new sort of, a lot of this is about building relationships. And that’s building relationships with your new fellow executives that you don’t know very well at all, I do have the privilege of having worked with two of them previously. So that does help, but not with the rest of them. And there is a large executive organisation just because of how the whole system works. So there’s about 12 of us all together, so that’s pretty meaty. And then at the same time, so where I work with a lot of the NHS Trusts, the ones that run the hospitals, and the mental health trusts, etc, it’s then learning and having the relationships with Chief execs and Chief People officers who are running those sovereign entities in their own right to have their own you know, organisational requirements, culture, etc. But knowing I’m building those relationships, because what we want to work in is in a much more collaborative fashion, than I suppose, in the past, where people were sort of more siloed, and all about their own entity and about their own organisation. So yeah, it comes with this, I think you can already see we’re in that forming stage as an exec team. And that point that you just raised about as the chief people officer, you sit with a different hat on, don’t you? When you sit around that board? Well, yes, it’s true. So I find myself being the person that you know, wants to just check out how everyone’s feeling and doing when there’s their first day, I’m the one that will reach out and say, How’s it going for you? This is what it was like for me. So you’re sort of doing that confidant, trusted advisor, the people piece for your colleagues, as well as then going right, from a strategic perspective, I need to learn and listen and engage all those relationships for what we need to do as a job of work together as well.

Jacqueline Conway  07:40

Absolutely. And I guess that’s really interesting. We are I mean, other people on the podcast have said, and other Chief People officers that I’ve spoken to have said that very often, they end up having us have no formal role as coach and confidant to their executive colleagues. I mean, Kate, have you found that with your executive colleagues?

Kate Bishop  08:05

Yeah, I think so. And I just said, you know, that relationship building is very critical upfront, so that you can play that role. And if I look back over the CPO roles I’ve done, you know, it’s different in every organisation, you know, some sometimes it’s helping them with their relationship, for example, with the CEO, you know, how do they manage the CEO? And, you know, or how do they manage peers? Or how do they behave as a team? And so, you know, it’s a difficult tightrope at some time, because you are part of that team. But you still need to maintain that individual confidentiality. Sometimes, you know, things about those individuals that, you know, the CEO doesn’t know, or other peers don’t know. And so it’s, it’s an interesting, and really quite complicated. Maybe dance, sometimes we have to do around that, because sometimes you’re also making career decisions about those individuals, you know, and you’ve got to make decisions on what information you do and you don’t use so yeah, it’s, it makes it an interesting job. And then I think sometimes you also have the added dynamic of the board, you know, so although you typically report to the CEO, or sometimes a COO, as a CPO, in either private equity or publicly listed companies, and I’m not sure about the NHS, you also have that sort of relationship into the board and a responsibility to the board as well. So yeah, there’s lots of interesting dynamics. I think the managers

Jacqueline Conway  09:27

Fascinating, and how do you manage them? I mean, what kind of things do you draw and in order to do that, well,

Kate Bishop  09:35

diplomacy you know, I think sort of there’s an honesty level there right and transparency level and using those coaching skills, Jas mentioned in there right around you know, you may not be there to solve the problem for the individual but you can certainly coach them and help mentor them towards you know, what the right decision might be for them, or that kind of thing. So I think you have to use sort of almost every tool in your toolkit at times, because every situation will be very different and very unique and shaped by the culture of the company and the culture of the team that you’re working within as well?

Jacqueline Conway  10:12

Absolutely. And of course, the Chief People Officer often has a role in recruiting and working on behalf of the board on the kind of performance management side of the CEO. So that’s another dynamic, isn’t it? Because I guess the CEO also knows that the chair of the board and others might be talking to the CPO about him or her?

Kate Bishop  10:37

Yeah, absolutely. And I think different CEOs have different relationships with their boards, some of them are very open, and they’ll say, tell the board what you tell them or kind of thing, you know, and others will, try and perhaps control more of those relationships of their executive team with the board. So, you know, that’s where you have to use that relationship building, asking lots of questions, really trying to decide, you know, what kind of Chief People Officer, am I? What kind of CEO Have I got, what Board have I got? And how do all of those things kind of work together?

Jacqueline Conway  11:10

How does that work in the NHS?

Jas Sohal  11:13

So, ya know, it’s very similar to what Kate was saying in the sense that you know that, so that relationship with the board, you know, you tend to find that as the CPO you’ll have a non exec director who is pretty much aligned to all things workforce. So you build that relationship with that non exec director very closely, particularly since you, are the person that helps to really pull together the agenda when we’re talking about all things people in terms of a subcommittee of the board. So you, have to know them really well spend time with them. And and then build that relationship knowing that they are going to be the person that leads that conversation on sort of assurance and scrutiny around all things workforce. So you got to keep that sort of independence from them as well, because they’re going to be asking you about what your accountability is. So that’s from a Ned sort of perspective. But again, like you said, I think it’s interesting the way you pointed it out, Jacqueline, which is as the CPO I’ve been in that position where I’m helping to recruit for a CEO. And then having therefore conversations directly with the chair, and others to help to enable a very fair and an open process for that to take place. Knowing however, that, you know, I’ve got people in the organisation who are at exec level looking to put themselves in the shoes of that process as well. So it’s an interesting and tricky balance, but also one that requires, just like Kate said, lots of diplomacy, lots of pragmatism, lots of listening and carefully listening to make sure you do what you believe is exactly the right thing to enable it to be, you know, a good process that takes care of the individuals that you already know, and those that are going to be in that process that you don’t know.

Jacqueline Conway  13:08

Because that’s so fascinating, isn’t it the way that the dynamic of an executive team is so often about people who then didn’t get the CEO role, and who were on the team. And some people are able to be quite philosophical about that and sort of move forward. And for others, there’s just a bit of a grain of that left in the dynamic that goes forward in the team, don’t you find?

Jas Sohal  13:38

Yes, I mean, I’m lucky to say that didn’t happen on, you know, on the occasion that I’m thinking of, but, you know, at that level, if you’ve put yourself forward often, then what you have to do I think, as a CPO, is that you go, right, what do we need to do here for you? What’s the right thing for you as that individual? And does that maybe look like Is it still within this organisation or something wider, so you know, you do feel yourself, you put yourself in their shoes, and then you have to think about their development paths, as well as what’s right for the organisation. And so you are playing that sort of dual role of, making sure the dignity for the individuals there, but also the right thing is for the organisation to move forward. And you’ll know, I think depending on the individual depending on the circumstances as to whether it makes sense or not for them to continue to be in the organisation to go to a certain path or actually for them to go you know what, let’s help you to get the right thing for you which may not be staying in the organisation but stepping out something new that we can support you with. So yeah, it’s you know, I think you’re exactly right Kate, you hold such in such a different role, I think around that exact table as a CPO because of all the different strings that you have to pull and the sort of the hats that you have to wear as a CPO.

Kate Bishop  14:59

Yeah, and I think it’s a challenge, isn’t it that thing of where you have somebody who sees themselves as a CEO, but they don’t get the job and their internal, you know, you’re absolutely right, you have to then focus on okay, what do we do to get you ready, so that next time, you know, if that happens, you’re ready, or we expand your role so that you’re more ready. And I think then, you know, often you’re also coaching, perhaps board members in the chair and working as yours, almost like your team sometimes becomes the board, because you’re needing to work with them to help that individual executive, you know, there may be somebody on the board they’re close to who can then mentor and coach them a bit more. And it’s about putting that support network in place for them. So yeah, it’s a very interesting dynamic,

Jacqueline Conway  15:41

I bet. Yeah, absolutely. So let’s just, I mean, Kate what we’ll do for a few minutes now, each, maybe 10 or 15 minutes each, is we’ll take an issue that’s important to you. And we’ll kind of go a little bit deeper. So Kate, we’ll start with you and kind of your high growth M&A and Jas, just feel free to kind of jump in and ask questions, so that the three of us are in dialogue together. And they will come on to you and some of the challenges that you’re facing around, you know, being in this kind of completely new setup. So, Kate, you’ve talked about the fact that IFS is high growth, there are 5000 employees now. And a lot of that growth has been through acquisitions. So you’ve been doing M&A? What’s that been like in the executive team? And what, then are the sort of priorities and, focus for the executive team when you’re in this kind of rapid growth phase?

Kate Bishop  16:40

Yeah, so I’m still fairly new. So I’m seven months in, but you know, what, one of the reasons I joined was because they had a sort of strong acquisition path. And I, you know, I enjoy doing that kind of work. But actually, this is super interesting. And so I think there was an element when I joined of almost doing a bit of a stocktake, you know, just for my own function initially to say, Okay, well, how ready? Are we from an HR standpoint? And how well do we do acquisitions? And, you know, we’ve done a few in the past, which had been more or less, okay. But as I looked at, I thought, gosh, there’s lots of things there that we could improve on. So actually, one of the first things I did was I worked with my team to get sort of due diligence checklist and some of the things that I felt were really quite basic things, but that we didn’t really have in the HR toolkit for acquisitions. And so I did that in sort of, I know, it was one of the first things I did, I think, you know, and, that worked brilliantly, because the first acquisition that then came along, we had done all of the work we needed to do. So rather than wait for the acquisition, we’d actually done the work. So we just kind of went right, well, here’s our stuff. And everybody went, Oh, okay. You didn’t have that last time? No, we didn’t. So, you know, a lot of what I’ve done, and what I’m looking to do with the organisation, is scale, right, I have to build for scale. And the challenge with high growth is that some things that may have been implemented just 18 months ago, right would have been fit for purpose 18 months ago, but we’ve already outgrown them, or we will outgrow them in six months time. So a lot of what I’m doing at the moment, and working with the exec team, is to kind of go right, what does build for scale mean? So for example, in my own function, I’ve said, right, globalisation and simplification, I’m no longer interested in, you know, Europe, this or Asia, that because that’s a sort of internal construct of how we’re organised, we might find that there’s another acquisition that comes along, or a change in leadership or something that changes the structure, and I need something that’s organisation agnostic. So I sort of said to the team, I just really want global and simple, right, because that will enable us to scale. And so that’s resonated quite well, I think with, certainly with the HR team and with some of the executives. So a lot of it is around looking at what you’ve inherited, when you’re new, I’m sure Jas is just doing this at the moment. And then kind of going well, okay, what’s, what’s broken and not working today. So my HR team, or they could talk about when I joined was the inordinate amount of admin and data checking, right? They were spending so much time because we had duplicate data entry for things and all kinds of stuff, you know, so it’s like, okay, I’m not going to have to get my team to move until I alleviate that problem. Because they can’t, they couldn’t see beyond it kind of thing. So again, I’ve hired a head of HR services, doing a great job already getting rid of some of that noise. And that’s my ticket to play with the rest of the organisation right to say to the executive, okay, I’m going to fix all the stuff that’s really annoying everybody. And then we can get into the more of the strategic stuff. So now we’re starting to ask them much more the questions of what’s the go to market strategy, you know, so if we do that acquisition, what’s the go to market strategy? Because you need to decide that before you acquire the company, not after it, right and forcing them to think through some of those difficult decisions and not let and off the hook, when they say, well, we’ll figure that out, you know, post flows. That No. Figure it out now, because otherwise you’re not gonna know what to talk to them about. So there’s been these different elements for me of coming in as part of the exec team, one of them is the, what’s broken? what needs fixing? And how do I then rebuild things for scale? And what are we missing in our portfolio? And then the second piece has been that more strategic piece right around what questions should I be asking the business because you have that advantage of being, you know, the new person, so you can come in with very fresh eyes, and you can acknowledge and sort of say, look, what was done before was great. For that time in that place. We’re going to be in a very different time and place in six months, 12 months, 18 months? I don’t think so. I’m not sure if I’ve completely answered your question there. But for me, that’s that piece around scaling and growing as part of the executive team

Jacqueline Conway  20:55

and Jas does any of that resonate.

Jas Sohal  20:57

So that certainly resonated in other organisations I’ve worked with, you know, in terms of when we go through growth and scale, I think it’s, quite different for me, in the organisation, I’m now in because it’s not about growth and scale, it’s about a very different thing. It’s about working in an organisation where, what the organisation used to do, is it used to commission services. So what they mean by that is that used to say, okay, when we look at a certain population, let’s say, you know, looking at a certain area, they say, well, we will lead to diabetes service here, for example, okay, which trust or provider can help us to open it up, and then let’s give them the right level of funding. So it was quite a competitive environment, you know, in terms of how it used to be. And now what, I’m finding for me is that I’m now entering an organisation where everything about that organisation is about how do we integrate and work together collaboratively, so we don’t compete with each other. But we are all sort of different parts of this large geography. And what we’re trying to do is build a model that will enable everyone to work together to enable and achieve the right outcome for people with, for example, diabetes, etc. And they work all the way through from the hospital through through the social care system. And what that means is for me right now, as the new sort of CPO, who looks across the workforce for all of that, and looks internally to an organisation, which is now finding itself working and doing things very differently. There’s lots and lots of organisational development, sort of human behaviour, stuff that I need to focus on, that’s probably the best way of describing it. So everywhere I look, whether I’m working within this HR team, that I’ve just suddenly found myself belonging to this new exec team, this new organisation of only about 450 people, and I’ve just come from an organisation of about 6000 people, to the people and working across the system with whether their hospitals are trustworthy, you know, that again, so there’s hundreds of people that you’re linking with, but it’s all about how do you work in a way that you both believe each other when you say you want to work on this stuff together. But you’ve still got these different polls, because you’ve got your own organisational pool, and you’ve got this way of working in a collaborative fashion that’s never been done before, or not done well enough before. So I am now in every single sort of interaction I’m having, I’m considering, how do I put something in to enable us to really, honestly have those conversations, so that we say, actually, we’re shifting our frame of mind to work in a different way. And as you can imagine, I’ve got to start with my exec colleagues in that space to begin with, you know,

Kate Bishop  23:53

and it’s not dissimilar in some ways, right? And it comes back to that change management piece, you know, my change management is for us to grow and scale have to break down some of the things that have done before that people have, probably did themselves and I’m quite passionate about and, you know, want to hang on to and, you know, and, and you’ve got the same challenge of you’re going to find things I think where it’s okay, this piece doesn’t connect to that piece. So we need to find a way to connect them, which means someone or both of you, or both organisations will need to change. So it comes back to that change management piece, right. And making sure that your executive team understand that whether it is building for growth and knocking down what was there before or changing because you’re trying to create those pathways. You know, it’s that change management piece and getting that executive team to really understand and talk about and keep talking about the reason you’re doing it and the journey and the strategy and the value for the organisation and the value for your, customers or, you know, people on their healthcare journey. Yeah, absolutely. You’re right.

Jacqueline Conway  24:59

Yeah. So there’s so much and in all of that, one thing I’m really curious about is how, do executive leaders they make that transition? Because, you know, the back piece, I mean, you’ve both talked about the need for being able to do strategy work as individually as CPO was. But that goes across the peace with your, colleagues on the executive team. And typically, executive leaders are recruited and promoted on the basis of being really great functional leaders. And then there’s this new requirement of them when they get into the C suite. So how does that get developed? Does it happen just by kind of on the ground learning? Or is that a sort of deliberate process in both of your organisations for developing the enterprise wide capacity, the strategic and change management capacity of your executive leaders?

Jas Sohal  26:00

That’s a really good question. I know you post it as something for us to think about, I absolutely get that people are very sort of functionally focused, or siloed, to some degree, you know, because you sort of, you wear the hat of your title, and you kind of like anything you find in the exec board. If somebody says something about people or workforce or, colleagues or staff, while everyone turns around and looks at me for some reason, when, of course, they should just be looking at each other. However, you know, I think there are things that you do, I think, as you just generally grow as a person in that exec board, do you realise that you, get more from thinking and learning from those conversations that you have. But, in our organisation just right now week four a brand new exec team, one of the things we’ve chosen to do, and only had a conversation about it yesterday is how we are all going to as exec leaders sort of buddy up with somebody else who does something else as an exec leader. So for example, I am going to buddy up with a colleague of mine who looks after the geography, the place of Wiltshire, and he’s like the Chief Operating Officer of that patch. And that then enables me to be sort of buddy, a champion is an eyes somebody to challenge, it helps to develop me to understand that world differently. It gives that sort of interesting perspective for you to then sort of go right, okay, now I can work, not just with, you know, to just to put different hat on and think about how life looks like from that person’s perspective, not just as a CPO. And equally, you know, I’ll ask another person in exec to work with me on workforce. So what I’ll say is, you know, please help me, if I have a go to in the board, that will be you. And we can talk about this stuff together. And it’s little things and it sounds very simple. And it is very simple. But those are the little things I think that helps you to, I suppose bring yourself out of your expertise area to go right, let me look at this and be part of these longer term more strategic conversations with not just my sort of view on life.

Kate Bishop  28:13

Great, yeah, I think for me, it depends on the organisation and the journey of the organisation. So IFS I’ve joined a very well established leadership team, I think, you know, I’m the newest by, I don’t know, three or four years kind of thing at that team level. So they’ve all established their working relationships, they’ve been through COVID together, you know, and I was the newbie, and I have to say, to be fair, to feel like the newbie, they’ve all been amazing, you know, but I know that I have got so much more to learn than each of them about the organisation and where it’s come from, and those kinds of things. But I think you also have to look at that they bring you in for a particular skill set, as well. So you need to make sure that you can add that value. I would also say with, other organisations, it’s just been so varied for every exec team that I’ve ever joined. I think that the common purpose thing is, the best way of getting that exec team to work together, right to make sure that everybody does understand each other’s areas, and actually, that you look at yourselves as a group of business leaders, you know, who have got a functional expertise, as opposed to on the HR person, or, you know, Jas, it made me smile when you said, you know, whenever people and culture and things like that come up, they do always look at the HR person. And I always sort of go, I’ll be the guardian of it, but like, it’s a team thing, guys. Right, like, you know, not just me. So I think that that’s the challenge, right? It’s saying actually, that exec team are the business leaders. You know, I am not the HR person. I am a business leader. You know, and I just have the expertise in HR.

Jacqueline Conway  29:51

Yeah, Lovely. And I loved what you said about purpose, and has your executive team it may have happened before you joined seven months ago. Okay, but has your executive team thought about and developed a kind of a team purpose, a blueprint for why that particular team exists and what it aims to do and for ifs?

Kate Bishop  30:16

I’m not sure it’s explicitly there. You know, if you said to me, Could you could you repeat it to me, I probably couldn’t. But there is a very, you can see in the discussions that, we have as a team, and the decision making processes, it’s there, right? It’s very values based, you know, how do we make sure that we are treating people with respect? You know, how do we make sure for example, we’ve got about 2000 people in Sri Lanka. And if you’ve been reading the news this year, Sri Lanka is having a very difficult time, you know, politically. And so we have had lots of discussions around how do we do the right thing for 2000 employees in Sri Lanka, who are having a hard time but who are so critical to our business? You know, and so we’ve put a whole bunch of things in place there. And it’s almost like it wasn’t a decision, whether we were going to do something, it was more a decision around, what are we going to do? How are we going to do? How quickly can we do it? And that values based decision making? I think he’s just very much part of the team. And I felt it even when I was going through the interviewing process. You know, it’s very clear when you speak to a team, you know, is there consistency when you ask them, but how do they make decisions and who makes decisions, and that kind of thing you can get under the covers of that, before you join somewhere,

Jas Sohal  31:30

I would say that the last organisation that I was at which was, another sort of NHS, it was a trust, a mental health and community trust, was probably the first organisation where I felt it was truly values oriented. And actually, that, for me, was all about the fact that the exec leadership, were very kind and compassionate and caring about the people that they were enabling and supporting in that organisation. And actually, there wasn’t a whole load of diversity at that board in terms of, I’d say everyone was British, I happen to be from a different ethnic origin. However, they had a held that thing, what you could see and feel that Kate was talking about, when she came into her interview, which I, saw and I came to mind, which was, you felt from the way that they spoke and how they interacted with each others, and others around them. There was something there, and you can’t name it. But there was something there that made you think I could join this place, I could see it being the sort of place I want to work with. And that was evident, not only when you join there, but from all the sort of the metrics as well, staff survey results, etc. So it’s something about the individuals and how they happen to work together, that then seeps in that organisation, I think,

Kate Bishop  32:49

it always goes back to that, you know, you think tone at the top, right? It is really the tone at the top that then sets the tone through the organisation, right, you know, and makes people want to join or not want to join or stay or whatever. And that’s super important at the moment, because, you know, we know it’s a difficult market to recruit in certainly, I don’t know about the NHS, but in my world, it’s very difficult globally, at the moment, for all of the reasons that we read in the press right, and the great resignation and people retiring earlier. And, you know, that kind of stuff. So it’s important to have that culture or else you’re going to lose the talent more long term. Yeah,

Jas Sohal  33:26

absolutely. And I think you’re right, with the, tone at the top, I always make this analogy, which is, it’s the tone at the top of anything, which is like a group. Yeah. So the tone at top of your family, tells you how you’re going to behave the tone at the top of the school that your children attend, gives you a feel for the school, when you walk in for the first time. It always is that and it’s it then goes always down to that into those individuals that sit at that top table. But shouldn’t for me, they shouldn’t think of themselves as being the top people. They should absolutely see themselves as the bottom of that pyramid saying I am supporting you. I’m not here to tell you. That’s the difference.

Kate Bishop  34:09

Yeah, servant leadership type of principle, isn’t it? I think, if you look for that in an organisation, you’ll generally find a pretty good organisation. Right? Low, ego, pretty humble, very clear in terms of direction and purpose.

Jacqueline Conway  34:22

Yeah, absolutely. You have a globally dispersed executive team. And I wonder if you can just tell us a little bit about the dynamic of that.

Kate Bishop  34:34

So again, I’m still pretty new, but I hadn’t actually met all of them. I don’t think until a couple of months ago, right? Because even my interviewing, I met the people in the UK that face to face, but it just seems to work. We just, you know, I think it’s a team that had to work through COVID I think they all like many executives. I think they all travelled a hell of a lot before COVID and And then COVID hit, you know, and everybody was stuck at home for the most part and had to figure out how do you keep that stuff going in a very difficult environment. And, you know, it’s interesting now post COVID. You know, I don’t think organisations or individuals have gone back to the type of travel that they did before, I think they’re more choice full now about when they travel and when they don’t travel and that kind of thing. But I think a lot of the, the norms maybe that were created through COVID have stuck. You know, so we, we don’t sit down and have massive long management meetings once a month, we sort of do a check in about every few weeks, CEO leads, there’s a few other forms of sort of, you know, larger groups of execs, and that kind of thing. But it’s very much if you need to get a couple of them on the phone, you set up a meeting, everybody turns up, you discuss whatever you need to discuss, and you carry on with things. So, you know, it’s a good done, it seems to work in this organisation, which is, good. And I think a lot of people learn a lot

Jacqueline Conway  36:05

through COVID. Yeah, absolutely. But do you find the limitations of that, because some other people I’ve spoken to have said, that the technology enabled remote communication works well, for some things, and it works to a point. But there are some issues, and there are some types of conversations that are much better had in person. So how do you and IFS make provision for that?

Kate Bishop  36:39

I think you just have to use your judgement call, you know, if you’re having a very difficult conversation with somebody, you know, maybe you’re even suggesting that it’s time for them to leave an organisation that there’s something that you will generally do in person face to face, right? Because that’s a more respectful way to do it. If you’re tackling a thorny problem, you know, then you can quite often do that you can do a lot online, and I guess I’m probably biassed, right? So I worked for Telco. At the time, when this video conferencing stuff was all very new. And they came to me and said, we’d like to test it with HR, because you’re not known for being very technology orientated. And I wasn’t sure at the time where to be offended or pleased that they thought we were either early adopters or dinosaurs, I’m not sure which. So I’ve worked with this style of working for, gosh, 22 years. And so to me, it’s more normal. So when I joined this organisation, and actually even in my previous organisation, my CEO was in Germany and the CFO was in Scotland. And you know, I’ve always worked with really, distributed leadership teams. And I think you get into a rhythm of what works for that leadership team, some of them will want to meet face to face a little bit more. And some of them won’t, you know, I think it, depends on the leadership team. And it depends on where you’re all located and what you can do and what you can’t do. And again, I think if there is a lot of trust there, maybe you don’t need to meet face to face quite so often, because you trust each other to get on with your various areas.

Jacqueline Conway  38:12

Lovely. And that is a great place to perhaps then shift the attention back to Jas and ask about trust, because you’re in a brand new team, its newly formed. And we all know the importance of psychological safety and trust within a team. And Kate’s talking about the way that is cultivated over long periods of time, even very well over technology. But how are you and your new executive colleagues trying to accelerate the pace at which you can get to a place where there’s deep trust with one another?

Jas Sohal  38:47

Yeah, I think. So what we did, and we did this deliberately, our CEO, made sure that we physically got together, even though some of us hadn’t yet joined the exec team. And we physically got together over a social to begin with to get to know each other. Because I think that does open up a whole load of stuff about understanding the other person, knowing where you’ve got some similarities, whether it’s from family or otherwise, it just, enables you to go, ah, you know, I feel at ease with this person. And then, having the first sort of, we did a session just deliberately on us on our own development. And it might sound like a luxury, but I think it’s a necessity, it enabled us to go right, here’s where my head is. And I’m going to share this with you in a space where you’re saying it’s fine, and it’s safe. And I’m also going to hear and listen to you and we did this. And by the end of the day, we’re energy zapped, however, it already started to create that beginnings of that teeny feel that you need before you start going right now we’ve got a job of work to do at the same time, as trying to get to know each other and how we all operate, and what makes us tick and what doesn’t make us tick. But I think those interventions are something that we’re going to continue to do. And regularly, I’ve got a chief exec who understands, really the importance of that, and has always done so. So what she will do is always have interventions on a regular basis that we all get together, we go off site somewhere. So we’re not distracted by, you know, the every day. And we do look at ourselves and how we’re working. And by doing that, that gives us more and more opportunity to create that safety, that psychological space to continue working together, outside of that sort of OD intervention that we’re in. So you know, that’s the sort of stuff that I think is so so important. But it feels like a luxury, it feels like a nice to do rather than a must do. And I think it’s the other way around, actually. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

Jacqueline Conway  41:02

And I was asking Kate about purpose, and the executive team partner, so beyond organisational purpose, or sort of grand narratives about you know, why we exist. But the executive team being really clear about what they are the to do, what is their collective leadership responsibility? Is that something that your team has deliberately worked on? Or like, Kate, do you think that that seems to just just be there with the team?

Jas Sohal  41:34

So I think most teams do an element of deliberate working on some of this stuff, don’t they? And I’ve done that in other organisations, I guess when you know, week four for me, at some of my colleagues are joining next week. So I think we I know we are going to work on something where we talk about strategic purpose, you know, for us as a team. However, I think I agree with Kate, which is, that level which isn’t said, which is how you just work together. That is probably more powerful, in terms of how you come across, and how you operate. That makes the difference from an exec team perspective. And any team perspective, I think, is that there’s this thing about where you, take the time to get to know each other, you understand each other’s world, you, work in a way that you you understand your nuances. And if you then present that out to the world, and people get that and you’re showing the right sort of kind and compassionate behaviours with it in the way that you operate, that I think counts much more than some words that might say, here’s the principles about how we will affect change, because it’s what you see and do is much more impactful than some words that you happen to collate together. At some point.

Jacqueline Conway  42:55

Yeah, absolutely. And how would the team know then, if they were? Or what would the team do if the if they felt that there was some sort of fracture in the expectations with each other? Or is it too early to tell that yet?

Jas Sohal  43:14

I think it really is a bit too early to tell, you know, in the organisation, I’ve joined, I’m just just wait for it, like Kate was saying several months, and she’s still sort of getting some of that stuff. I think in the other organisation I’ve just come from, I think, you know, we worked very hard together on us, as a team. And I think COVID actually helped you to gel because you had a single purpose, you’re working for the NHS, you had a single purpose, and you felt that sort of momentum of going, Wow, we’re making a difference. We’re making it together. And we’re having to sit down and fast tracks and things that we never would have done before. That all helped to create that trust, and that I know, you’re the expert to go off and do this, I won’t be able to ask you the tonnes of questions that I typically ask you when when things weren’t so fast moving. And that all made a difference. But I think in that when you do that sort of stuff, if you want to try to sort of recreate that in normal times, to get to a place of that trust again, and it’s much harder, actually much harder. So it takes a lot more, I think sort of personal investment investment in that in that sense.

Jacqueline Conway  44:31

And fourtells early on, have you sort of experienced within the exec team that then feels like something for you to be working on you personally as CPU and you as a member of this executive team.

Jas Sohal  44:47

What I’ve seen is that, you know, everyone comes with different styles, and different backgrounds. And then what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another and I think these things begin to surface as you have more and more interactions with each other. And you start to get a sense for people and individuals and how they like to be communicated with and how they prefer to communicate with you. And it’s that sort of stuff that you start to go, Okay, now I need to adjust myself because I don’t think that I can see your sense that doesn’t quite work and, you make those changes and adjustments. But then at the same time as CPO, as I watch and observe, and I’m part of this, I start thinking to myself, right, I think it’s going to be worth our while to go. Let’s have some time together to create a space for us to talk about this with each other. Because I think some people are on that, on the scale that they can actually see and observe and adjust their behaviours accordingly. And others aren’t on that scale. So, you know, you kind of need to help each other to understand what concerns you how you tend to operate what your style is like. And sometimes people need it quite clearly, sort of, whereas others will go, I can see that I’ll adjust myself. So you know, week four, in some people yet haven’t joined, I’m sure that what we’re going to have to do is spend some time together in a room again to go. Right. So we’ve been in some meetings together, we’ve made some decisions together. How else do we need to do this? So it works. And it doesn’t feel as clunky? Because every forming team, brand new team gets a clunkiness. And I don’t think I am sensing elements of that journey at the moment. But I think I’ve sense a few more. Yeah,

Jacqueline Conway  46:29

Absolutely. And something I’m curious about is, I mean, the scale of the challenge for the NHS right now is just huge. I mean, there isn’t a day goes by, where we don’t turn on the radio or watch the television, and we hear about the enormous pressure that the NHS is under. And so how, in your previous role, and in this role, do you personally and your exec colleagues manage your energy for what feels like a sprint that goes on forever? It’s not even a marathon. It’s just it feels like you have to be at pace. But there’s no end to the pace.

Jas Sohal  47:08

Yeah, this is truly the first job I’ve been in, where when I switch on the news, I kind of go, Oh, that’s my job. Oh, my God, it’s headline news today? Oh, no, it’s certainly the third headline news. So that’s, a bit better. And you know, I’ve not been in that position before. I mean, I think I remember only last week where, you know, NHS workforce was the number one story was, you know, this is a big problem. And this is going to just get bigger as a gap. So there’s a, personal resilience that you have to build into yourself in terms of your own energy levels. Because you could be doing this job, day and night, nonstop seven days a week, and you still wouldn’t make as much leeway in difference as you you personally want to, because it’s just so huge. So I find myself, you know, from a mental health perspective, I have to look after my own well being, because I’m looking after those that have so many others in my work that I think right, I have to take the time out, to make sure I’m looking after myself, to be the best person I can be in the role that I do. And that’s really important. And it’s, you know, you kind of just have to go, you have to take the small wins wherever you get them. It’s one of those roles. And every little bit, that little change that you make will make that bigger change ultimately. And you know, if you’re in it for the long game, when you’re working in health and social care, it’s never going to be a quick fix. It’s much more about that longer, long term strategic fix that you’re looking for. But in the meantime, you take every opportunity to make that change wherever you can make it. NHS is a massive, massive machine. And one of the things that I think I bring, as do others who have come from outside of the NHS is a bit more agility, less tolerance for the bureaucracy. And then ideas to innovate, which I think Kate must come across every day in her life. And I came in my commercial sort of life, but in the NHS when you’ve been in there, or in health and social care, when you’ve been there for quite a while, it sometimes can become just the norm when you get so used to it that you kind of don’t question some of the stuff that you might have questions right at the outset. So I think it’s really important for a machine like the NHS and that’s why the exec around the table need to come from very different backgrounds to enable that shift to happen, I think.

Jacqueline Conway  49:42

Yeah, absolutely. And Kate, what’s your perspective on kind of cultivating resilience and ensuring well being both for yourself and within your executive team?

Kate Bishop  49:53

Yeah, I think it’s not dissimilar to what Jas is, right? It’s it’s reminding yourself that you know, You need to celebrate the small wins, you need to keep your eye on sort of longer term stuff, right? I think that’s the big challenge with it. You know, and and just making sure people know that it’s okay to take your downtime, all of that sort of fairly usual stuff where you have to say to people, it’s okay, you need to go do those things. Like, they’ll always be another M&A deal just around the corner that you need to urgently work on. But like, make sure that you’ve got coverage, make sure that you’ve delegated make sure that you know, never, I always have a bit of a mantra that says, I never want to be the only person who knows something. Because that makes me indispensable. And actually, I don’t want to be indispensable, because I need downtime sometimes. And I think sometimes we get a little bit like, oh, I want to be indispensable, but actually, you’re not when you work for any kind of organisation.

Jas Sohal  50:46

In our every day, you know, for example, cost of living is becoming an issue for all of us. And then as an executive team, you have to look at those real life issues. And you have to think about the people that work with you, who are the most important asset in the sense that without them, you wouldn’t get whatever organisation you’re in, getting stuff done. Those are the sorts of things that wherever you work, whether it’s the NHS, whether it’s where Kate works, you’ve got to bring those into your thinking when you’re sitting around that exact table, and see how you want to address that. So there’s certain things that I think just a real life issues that you must always afford and pay attention to as an exec team, you can’t, sort of behave in a way that something that happens outside of the door, you bring it in, and you make it real, and you think about it, and you address it together, and you communicate really well with your teams and show that you want to do something to help them with those sorts of things. And I think this post pandemic world is a strange one, we suddenly find ourselves staring at each other, you know, wearing headsets, when we were always connected in our office in a different space, I think we’re all still adjusting to that. It’s not yet fixed, we’re not quite clear, we’re sort of playing at it still, you know, it doesn’t feel quite real yet. And, and all of those things, I think, as an exec team, you’ve got to be mindful of in everything that you do, because it’s that human aspect of every interaction that you have, that I think is really important to keep as an exec. I remember in the past, when I’ve dealt with exec when I wasn’t at that level, you know, you’ve got to have an awareness that when people speak with you, they sometimes hold and regard what you’re saying higher for some reason, than when somebody else is saying it and it’s your, you know, it’s up to you to sort of almost correct that and say, Actually, I’m paying more regard to you. You’re the person who knows more, and is the expert in this or I think that you know, what you could come up with is just, you know, it’s the right thing here. All I’m here to do is to help to support us and questions how to get the right direction together and bring us to it.

Jacqueline Conway  53:11

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What’s required from Executive Leaders has changed. Find out how executive leaders and executive teams can survive and thrive in our disrupted world. Interviews with CEOs and insights from Waldencroft’s Dr Jacqueline Conway.

By Jacqueline Conway…

Dr Jacqueline Conway works with CEOs and executive teams as they fully step into their collective enterprise-wide leadership, helping them transform their impact and effectiveness.

Jacqueline is Waldencroft’s Managing Director. Based in Edinburgh, she works globally with organisations facing disruption in the new world of work.